It isn’t often that game devs raise money for celebrities, but Ethan and Hila Klein aren’t ordinary YouTube stars. Right now, the comedy YouTubers say they are fighting an extraordinary — and expensive — legal battle over their right to make “reaction” videos for their four million YouTube subscribers.
On April Fools, Overkill Software introduced Ethan Klein into first-person shooter Payday 2. Yesterday, Overkill, who are fans of the Kleins, announced they will be making the joke a permanent, and charitable, reality. This spring, the faces behind H3H3Productions will be playable characters in Payday 2, and Overkill studios will donate all of the DLC’s revenue to the Kleins as they continue to fight their legal battle that, they say, could financially ruin them even if they win.
Ethan and Hila, who run the YouTube channel H3H3Productions, make sketch comedy and “reaction” videos in which they comment on internet and YouTube culture. Last year, the husband-wife team filmed a video mocking YouTuber Matt Hosseinzadeh, or “Bold Guy”, for his video about picking up girls using parkour. In response, Hosseinzadeh filed a complaint with the Southern District of New York District Court alleging copyright infringement. In the complaint, Hosseinzadeh accuses the Kleins of “purporting to discuss the Work in what they believe to be a humorous manner but in fact reproduces virtually all of the Work as nothing more than a prop”.
The Kleins took down their video. In subsequent videos, the Kleins wrote the lawsuit off as a sham: “I think the heart and soul of this is that he doesn’t like that we made fun of him and so he’s suing us,” Ethan said last May.
The legal fees, though, were no joke. That’s what Overkill’s Ethan and Hila Character Pack will support. While the Kleins were initially represented pro bono, a year later, after switching firms, the price of fighting the lawsuit has reportedly snowballed, with the first month allegedly costing over $US50,000 ($67,744). And they will continue to fight it, the Kleins say, to protect fair use and prevent a bad precedent. (YouTube personality Philip DeFranco helped raise $US170,000 [$230,329] for them in a GoFundMe, arguing that the lawsuit is “an attempt to step on freedom of speech via a broken copyright system and most people’s confusion over Fair Use”.)
Payday 2‘s new H3H3Productions-themed DLC sells for $US4.99 ($7), for which Overkill will receive zero per cent of the cut. It’s a matter of protecting IP: “We understand, respect and appreciate the privileged situation our community has helped us create as independent game developers,” Overkill writes on their website. “We want to help Ethan and Hila to do the same, just like we want to help other independent game developers get their games out the door while having them retain their own IP.”